AT THE MOVIES: Czech Dream

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Klusák (l) and Remunda
Part cruel hoax, part post-modern comment on the nature of consumerism and choice in a country emerging from totalitarianism, Czech Dream (Česky sen, 2004), which just finished a run in New York after securing U.S. release, lays bare the brute power of advertising.

Two filmmakers, Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, secure funding via public grant to shoot their film school final project—a documentary about the opening of a hypermarket outside Prague. But there is no hypermarket, only an advertising and PR campaign leading up to a grand ceremony in a meadow where they've erected a 10x100 meter scaffold covered by a fabric painted to look like an enormous, rainbow-covered super-center facade.

From their initial tailoring to go from Eastern European film students to dapper--and most importantly, believable—businessmen (a makeover paid for by ten seconds of logo exposure for the clothier) the two move through every step of a real marketing process. Together with Mark BBDO they draw up a brief, audition a family who loves shopping and hit the local hypermarkets with them for research before they develop posters (with slogans like "Don't come here" and "Don't spend") and shoot TV commercials. The posters go to focus groups, and they eye test their shopping circulars with unbelievable low prices against rivals like Tesco.

The filmmakers even hire a songwriter and a children's choir to record their theme, a stirring romantic treatment on the pleasures of buying. Lyrics include "What does a happy dream say?/When they cut the red ribbon/On that nice dreamy day/The earth becomes Shangri-la/It's sunny and they all play/Add it to your agenda/The thirty first of May." and exultations to "get a loan and scream" "if you got no cash"

Tensions between the agency and the filmmakers peak when Klusák and Remunda ask the shop to add lines like 'you won't leave empty handed' to the posters. The agency refuses, saying at that point they'd be lying and won't do that, overlooking the fact they've prepared a campaign for the opening of a hypermarket that isn't really either of those things and have already lied extensively by their own definitions.

It's unclear how much of their budget the filmmakers devoted to the actual media buy and how many citizens the messages reached, but they did film a television commercial, present posters and flyers in newspapers. Apparently, enough exposure to get several thousand people to turn up on opening day.

Of course, that's the minute you've been waiting for the entire film, and by the time the customers have gathered in the parking lot across the field from the giant fabrication the tension is enormous. Are they going to tear these two clearly petrified guys limb from limb?

That you'll have to watch to find out. Or dig around on YouTube. But the three reactions the filmmakers got—angry, amused and ambivalent, suggest three modes of consumer. The consumer who is angered most resents the implication he is a pawn while at the same time self-aware of the reality of the label. The amused consumer, who laughs at the joke, is the most cynical, resigned to the daily manipulations. The ambivalent, who looks at the morning's ruse as an unexpected opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and stretch his legs in the meadow without spending money, he, though in the minority, understands the scam but savors the temporary release from it.

The film has a few more runs in theaters in the States, but you can purchase the DVD from the website.
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